It was almost time for the Gophers to leave the locker room for warmups before the start of Monday’s game against Clemson when Richard Pitino decided to motivate his players with a quote from Bill Belichick.
The New England Patriots coach and six-time Super-Bowl winner indirectly helped Pitino establish an identity for his team.
“There’s a really good Belichick clip I saw on Twitter,” Pitino said after the 78-60 win vs. Clemson. “He keeps it so simple: Utilize your strengths. So, I wrote on the board, what are our top three strengths? First thing was get the ball to [Daniel Oturu]. The second was catch-and-shoot threes. The third thing was defending without fouling.”
The Gophers desperately needed a win against a high-major opponent for the first time after losing the first four. Having them focus on their strengths ended up making a difference against the Tigers.
When Pitino first asked his players what the team’s No. 1 strength was they weren’t specific enough. Throw the ball inside? Post touches? They were on the right track, but it was more than that.
“Nobody wants to say his name,” Pitino said. “I said, ‘throw the ball to Dan.’ It doesn’t mean he has to shoot 30 times. But if he gets a touch there’s going to be a scheme to get it out of his hands. Maybe a guard slapping down. Maybe a big trapping. Get him a touch and kick it out. A little bit like Wisconsin with [former Badgers All-American] Ethan Happ. Maybe not as much as him, because he was getting it all over the place.”
The second strength was assisted jump shots. It started with throwing the ball to Oturu, who scored 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting in 24 minutes. Oturu didn't have any assists, but he drew multiple defenders. So did point guard Marcus Carr driving to the basket aggressively all night. Carr had 24 points and nine of his team's 17 assists on 28 field goals Monday.
“I don’t know what the exact analytics are,” Pitino said. “But the more catch-and-shoot threes the [better]. That’s what they work on in drills constantly getting a pass and shot. Pass and shot. You’re not going off the bounce and shooting threes.”
The last strength was defending without fouling. The Gophers didn’t do that well in the first half with more fouls than Clemson 12-6. Oturu and Jarvis Omersa had three fouls. Carr and Gabe Kalscheur had two fouls.
Pitino was forced to go deeper into his bench than he had this season, playing 10 players in the first half, including rarely-used freshmen Sam Freeman and Bryan Greenlee. But Freeman and Greenlee helped Minnesota deal with foul trouble.
“Second half, I thought we were better,” Pitino said about the Gophers only having seven fouls.
Pitino joked that he and Belichick are “good friends,” but he more so just reads and listens to how many successful coaches and leaders in different sports get their teams to play at their best.
“He does a pretty good job of taking other philosophies that he sees,” Carr said. “Pretty often he’ll bring in new quotes from guys who are successful.”